If 70 percent of Americans would choose their dog over their spouse, it’s not surprising that many dog owners want nothing but the best for Fido when they are choosing finishes and features for a new house.
But Fido could care less, said Dr. Nicholas Dodman, a veterinarian and the founder of the renowned Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts Cummings Veterinary School in North Grafton, Mass. “A house is not intrinsically interesting for a dog. Dogs have been domesticated for 12,000 to 14,000 years, and they cling to humans because we’re both social animals. But dogs still have a dog agenda.”
“Dogs are just not on the same wavelength of enjoying a house. A dog couldn’t care less about granite countertops. They’re not interested in furniture types or drapes. They’re not interested in aesthetics,” Dodman said. They will notice the difference between their old house and their new one, but it’s not a distinction that is meaningful to them. Fido’s owners may be thrilled with all the great things in their brand-new house and be more careful with them, but “he’ll come in out of the weather, scratch, and roll around on the carpet” just like he always did.
But, Dodman went on to say, although Fido may have no interest in the particulars of a house, he will prefer a house to an apartment because he cares a lot about having a yard to play in.
How big a yard would Fido want? An acre may seem huge to you, especially if you’re the person maintaining it, but it’s not that big to a dog — his natural roaming territory can be many miles, Dodman said. But he added, dogs are amazingly adaptive. Though Fido “would say that ‘bigger is better,'” he will happily run around and play whatever size yard you have, even if it’s only a small side yard.
Unlike a dog’s blase attitude towards a house, differences between yards will definitely register. If you actually do have an acre-sized yard, Dodman said that your dog will notice things like “there’s no next-door dog patrolling the fence, and out here in the country there’s squirrels to bark at.” Although a fence might seem unnecessary in a rural or semi-rural setting, Dodman advises owners to install one wherever they live because “bad things like aggressive dogs and coyotes can come in.” He also said that owners shouldn’t feel obliged to fence in their entire property simply for their dog’s benefit — their dog will be quite happy to run around in part of it.
A dog’s preferences for things outdoors also extend beyond the size of his own yard. “It’s in a dog’s nature to jump into a lake,” Dodman said, and most would love to live near a beach where they can play and run in and out of the water, especially in hot weather.
When a dog comes indoors, he does appreciate the basics like central heating and air conditioning. He’s glad to get in out of the rain. And there are a few things that would make a difference to him, Dodman said. If the house has a yard, a dog would like a dog door so that he can come and go as he pleases.
Dogs have preferences for certain types of spaces. They like recesses where they can feel protected, and different ones would appeal for different reasons. To a dog, a recess in a kitchen is a ringside seat to much of a household’s activity. If the new kitchen will have so many base cabinets that the owners could remove the doors from one, a small dog may take it over. A recess under a desk in a study would be a safe haven from a heated family argument or loud and obnoxious guests. If the new house doesn’t have a small cozy spot, not to worry, Dodman said. “A dog will invent one because he wants a little space he can call his own.”
A dog will like a crate. He’ll like it even better if his owners cover it with a hood because that will make it feel like a den, a private space where he can be left alone. “It’s the dog equivalent of a teenager in his own room,” Dodman said.
Because a dog wants to see outdoors easily, he will like a window seat that puts him right next to a window and French doors with glass panes that are low to the floor.
Although a dog will not care one way or the other about a room arrangement, a very open plan can be disadvantageous because “you can’t block anything off,” Dodman said. “A high-spirited dog like a Border Collie can careen around in circles and there’s nothing you can do. With a more compartmentalized house you can contain him.”
Whether a dog is high-spirited or placid, however, owners will need to create a contained space with kiddie gates when he’s a puppy being housebroken and when he’s teething and wants to chew everything in sight, a stage that generally lasts until a puppy is about eight to nine months old, Dodman said.
For the owners’ benefit, Dodman recommended a mud room where they can dry their rain-soaked dog as soon as he comes in, before he can track water and mud into the rest of the house. It’s also handy as a place to give a dog an occasional bath, he added.
With limited square footage, the easiest way to get a good-sized mud room is to combine it with the laundry into one large room, said Memphis, Tenn., architect Carson Looney. In his own house, the dog and laundry room is about 10 feet by 10 feet. He designed it to be a purely functional space where the household could dry the dogs as soon as they came in and, when they were dirty, give them a bath in the shower stall with its hand-held showerhead. But, Looney said, the dogs have turned the room into a “big dog crate” where they sleep at night, spend part of their day, and occasionally seek refuge from loud noises.
The most unusual feature in the dog and laundry room is Looney’s dog feeding station. It not only gets the food and water dishes out of the way so they won’t get knocked over, it’s is also big enough to hold two 20-pound bags of dry dog food, as well as dog treats, leashes and other dog paraphernalia.
The feeding station looks like built-in cabinetry. A shelf recess at the base holds the food dishes, and Looney installed a water line and a faucet with an automatic water attachment for pets. As the dogs drink, the bowl is automatically refilled. A pull out hamper above the shelf holds the bags of dry dog food, and a cabinet at the top holds everything else. The ensemble is about 30 inches wide and 60 inches high. In Looney’s house it fits neatly into a wall recess. It could just as easily be freestanding, and mud room or not, it would be handy addition for any dog-owning household.
The mud room has two entries. One opens onto an outdoor fenced area. The other, which opens onto the garage foyer, has a Dutch door. The lower half is closed at night and when the dogs are drying off after a bath.
With four acres, Looney had no trouble fencing off an area for his own dogs, but he said that he can almost always work one in, no matter how small a lot is. He’s even tucked them into the narrow 5- to 7-foot-wide side yards that are common in many new subdivisions now. In those instances, Looney puts the dog’s area next to the garage. Despite the proximity of other houses, he said that neighbors rarely complain because the side yard is next to their garage as well.
Questions or queries? Katherine Salant can be contacted at www.katherinesalant.com.